Photographer: DAVIS TURNER

Millennial and Gen X Minorities Regret Student Debt the Most

Young blacks and Hispanics with student loan balances would do things differently, given another chance

Black and Hispanic Americans regret their student loan debt more than their white counterparts, a new Pew Charitable Trusts report finds. When you dig into their education and labor market outcomes, that makes a lot of sense. 

About 51 percent of black and 52 percent of Hispanic millennial and Generation X student-loan borrowers would find a different way to pay for school so that they'd owe less, the survey found, compared to just a third of white students. While 10 percent of black debt holders said that they wouldn't go to school if they could do it over, just 7 percent of their white counterparts felt that way.

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The findings shouldn't be totally surprising: Minority graduates, particularly those who are black, are far less likely to have completed the degrees they took out loans for, dramatically reducing their return on investment. Most of the wage premium Americans gain by attending college comes only with degree completion, Labor Department data show.

"They're more likely than white student loan borrowers to have not completed their degree, and they're more likely to not yet have a bachelor's degree," said Diana Elliott, the lead researcher for Pew’s study of American families’ financial security and mobility. "These factors are really important when you think about labor market outcomes and the return on investment." 

Just 35.5 percent of black full-time students who enrolled in four-year colleges in 2007 graduated from the same school they started at within five years, compared to 59.1 percent of white students, National Center for Education Statistics data show. The stats are even worse for for-profit institutions: Just 16.7 percent of black enrollees graduated, compared to 37.6 percent of whites who attended the four-year programs. That's concerning since the share of black enrollees attending for-profit, four-year institutions stood at about 12 percent in 2008, versus 5 percent of whites. 

Even minorities who make it to graduation fare worse in the job market than their peers. Unemployment for 25- to 34-year-olds with a bachelor's degree stood at 3.6 percent on average in 2014, yet the rate was 3.8 percent for Hispanics and 7.2 percent for black people.  

That elevated rate is far lower than unemployment for the young black workforce at a whole, which stood at 13.3 percent in 2014, yet high student debt can make joblessness an even more difficult financial burden to bear. Half of 2000-2014 black college graduates in the U.S. reported leaving school with more than $25,000 in undergraduate debt, while just 34 percent of white graduates had education debt at that level, based on a 2014 Gallup poll

Based on the Pew report released Wednesday, 44 percent of black Generation X and millennial households reported owing student loans, compared with just 35 percent of white households. The Pew report defines millennials as those born between 1981 and 1997, and Generation X as those born between 1965 and 1980. 

(For more economic analysis, see Benchmark.)
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